100k WC 2011

100k WC 2011

Gagarin Half Finish

Gagarin Half Finish
Gagarin Half Finish

Awards Gagarin Half

Awards Gagarin Half
Awards Gagarin Half

Cosmonauts give out the awards:)

Cosmonauts give out the awards:)
Cosmonauts give out the awards



Sunday, February 21, 2016

Little Su 50K -11 Years Later, I Still Can!

My how times have changed. First off, just to get into this raceI had to sit up and wait for the stroke of midnight on November 1st then rush to sign up. Yes, I had been warned that this race now closes in several hours. Are you kidding me!? It used to be you could sign up a day or two before the race. I do have to say,that this overall trend of lotteries and rush rush to sign up for more and more races in general is really getting frustrating. It makes it really hard to plan a season. Turns out that this race has gotten quite popular and now even attracts out- of -staters. No kidding! So, after staying up, I did get in! I've actually followed this race online over the years from Moscow. The course has changed several times since I last  did it in 2005.

When I did this race in 2004 and in 2005, I was still living in Wasilla and living about 20 minutes from the course. I used to spend weekends out training on the trails where I'd be racing may of those weekends were with one of my close friends and training partners Julie Udchachon. She has been on three US 100k teams and is an awesome ultrarunner. We would go out and "play" on  those trails  for hours regardless of the conditions. She's now out of state but we are still in touch and I do have to admit that she is by far the best training partner I have ever had or ever will have for that matter. Bricks could be falling from the sky, but we'd get out there and get the job done. Those are the memories I have of the trails in these parts.

I really wish I had that kind of company now  especially for safety reasons because most of what I run is pretty remote, Some has cell coverage, some does not. Then there is the wildlife factor. It's been a warm winter and the bears aren't necessarily sleeping. I've been "delayed" by moose on a regular basis which at night can be scary because I can't always see the moose's ears and getsures to determine if it may or may not be aggressive. It may be a cow with a calf or two nearby and the last thing I need is to end up between them! I know there are wolves and coyotes on my routes and have heard howling some evenings. The alternative is to sit home on the couch all winter, but that's not really an option.

So, this race would serve as my mid- winter  motivator to fill the too large of a void between now and early May. That's another entire topic of discussion, but let's just say that I am unimpressed with the running calendar or more accurately put, the complete lack thereof one for pretty much the entire Kenai Peninsula from October-May. I had thought there would be an event in the area in March, but it turns out ...not. I really need to be training now and then do some stepping stone races in April-May to be in top shape for the summer season. I'll be on the lookout if anything gets added. I was able to do Little Su 50 only because it fell on a 4 day weekend where we had both Friday and Monday off school for holy days. It was a SATURDAY race some 300 miles away! Driving up the night before right after school was not going to happen! At the very least, if I have a Saturday race in Anchorage, I need to do it when we have a holy Friday off so I can have a rest day after the drive which is usually Thursday after school.

I did take a sleep/ rest day this time the Friday before the 50k. On Saturday, I had to be up at O-Dark-Early for the hour and a half or so drive to Big Lake just out of Wasilla from Anchorage. Sure, it was an 11AM start, but it's a good idea to get there early unless you want to park in Siberia :) I figured getting there 9 ish would be ok. The 100 milers start at 9 and the 50k goes at 11. The start/finish was at Martin Buser's Happy Trails Kennels. He is an Iditarod stud! it was actually really nice and there was a nice building to keep warm in. So, I arrived and checked in. I got to see the 100milers start. Two hours later, we were off. Now, you can either run,ski, or bike this course. You declare your category when you check in. One of the ladies who was running, noticed me before the start and remembered me from the 49k in August. She had finished third.

 photo from susitna100.com

So off we were and I was joined by a teacher from Palmer (my old school district before leaving for Moscow in 2005). About 10k in, Two other ladies joined us. One of them was the lady who ran the 49k with me. I was not going out hard and quite preferred to lollygag in the beginning because I needed my strength for later on. I knew I'd probably be pushing loose snow on hills later in the race and needed to conserve energy. We were all running the same pace and it was nice company. I did notice it seemed a bit on the fast side for this course and surface-finish pace just over 5 hours. Now, in 2004 I ran my best time of 5:05 which was actually a CR then. The first and last 10k ran across Big Lake and you could get some speed on the ice road in those spots. A year later, I ran 6:04 on a course that was nothing but loose snow! It really depends so much on conditions year to year. This year, the river and lake crossings were pretty good. There was just enough snow on the ice to give good footing. However, when things weren't on the flats, they rolled and rolled and this is where the loose snow (kind of like running in sand) was in waiting. The course is run on mushing and snowmachine trails. Our group ran together the first 19km. Then, as more rollers came along, they began to fall back. I really didn't want to take the lead this early on, but if I lollygag at a pace slower than I should be running, my calves get really grumpy. I need to run my comfort zone. I was just running a consistent effort on the hills. I actually found the surfaces on the trail so much easier to run than the mess of ice and snice I've been relegated to training on most of the winter. This is what mushing and snowmachine trails are supposed to be-runnable! The snow around Homer has just been sucktastic. We sometimes get nice big dumps and I begin to drool over the thought of hitting the mushing and snowmachine trails out here....only to have it all crashed by rain and or thawing a few days later. The result has been nasty post-holey snow save for some good stuff I found around 2000ft and above the treeline on the snowmachine trails in January (albeit after climbing through about 4km of post holey crunchy stuff to get there).

Taking a drink at bout 15k

So I was enjoying the course:) Happy feet!!! I was just out running my pace and gradually, the other three ladies fell further back. Oh dear, 30k left.....if I end up alone I really need to make sure not to GET LOST!. The course was very very well marked though. At 25k, I came through in 2:32 and change. Ok, yes if it were a road time that would be sad, but this is a whole different kettle of fish. The one and only aid station was just before about 27k. I stopped to get some eats and fluids. I decided to risk not filling my 2l bladder. I had about half left. I drank more at the aid station and took about 2 min there making sure eats and drinks were in. They had a place for trash too (no littering on the trails so carry your trash til there is a trash to put it in). I could see the 3 ladies appearing in the distance again just as I took off. After 20k or so I gradually started picking up just a little. After the aid station, I hit a flat section and the snowpack was good  and I was running this between 4:45-5min/km pace. Again, I was running a consistent effort on whatever surface I had to deal with. At about 30k, things headed for more rollers and loose sandy snow. I came out at a powerline trail on top of a hill and checked back after about 6 min and could not see anyone. I understand I was totally on my own most likely the rest of the day. DON'T GET LOST!
                                                         out around 33-34k and all alone
 At the aid station they told me there was one guy ahead of me about 2 miles. He left nice footprints to follow! I just kept going. My pace was still consistent 35k 40k.....This section was pretty with the views of the mountains. This was the area Julie and I used to stomp around in.The view was awesome and the sun peeked in and out. 8k or so to go and I hit the turn off to head back to the start. 45k....almost home. I was actually feeling pretty good , still consistent in pacing. My feet were getting a little tired on the harder icier sections from the hard surface, but aside from that, I still felt fine. I had been munching all day, drinking, got in plenty of Vitargo loading before the race and hydrating before the start. There it was....the last HILL to the finish. I finished in 5:04 beating my time from 12 years ago (aaaahhh when I was 29 and fast....). I actually did negative split along the way. The top guy was 4:57 so probably less than a mile up on me. Next lady(who was 3rd at the 49k last summer) was 14+min back and the other 2 from our group were 40+ back. At the aid station, that group was only about three minutes behind me.

To be honest, I was surprised I felt so good the whole day. I wasn't sure how I'd do because the only racing I've done since last fall was what I did in Moscow over winter break.I just figured I'd go out and run ans it would be whatever it would be.  I had been training on hilly hard terrain all winter, but not sure how much I was getting out of it with no stepping stone races to check my actual fitness.I think all that hill training on some really crummy surfaces(ie BARE ICE...but in Icebugs) helped me.  Long runs have been split between hilly gnarly trails of snow and ice and then hitting the Homer Spit on weekends for fast pavment 30-35km. I did all my long runs with the camelbak loaded to get used to running with the weight. This is a race where you must carry. There is only one aid station for refilling water if need be. No crew or outside help is allowed. Most importanly, I had fun. I just wish there were more things like this happening that are not a seven hour drive to get to!

Monday, February 1, 2016

2015 Done-On To 2016!

Wow! My last entry was in August! Well that doesn't mean I have not been training and racing, it just means I've been very busy and don't get around to posting in here as often as I used to. Between the job and my training, I have some time left over to eat and sleep then repeat the process. I hit the trails, track, road, etc after school every day and then head home for dinner, shower and off to bed. I did do (and win) a few local races in the Kenai Peninsula and in Homer. That was just to help maintain fitness as I was heading back to Moscow for 3+ weeks over winter break for some good racing  and quality training.
 2015 was the year I moved back to Alaska for the school year. I will probably revert to doing what I did before I moved to Moscow as an expat in 2005 in that I spent my off time from school there (summer break/winter break). It was a way for me to keep current in what I was teaching (Russian) and get cool new stuff to use in class so as to avoid doing the same boring stuff every year. That is exactly why I am still maintaining my flat there subletting from time to time. It's also a CYA in case state budget cuts affect my contract next year. Oil is at a record low now and Alaska is very much like Russia- oil dependent. I like the job and the kids are cool. Being able to teach the entire class in Russian is really awesome too :)
So, after being out of Moscow since mid July, I headed back to race and have fun. Yes, and only I could find a place COLDER than Alaska to spend my winter holidays. After the New Year, the bottom fell out and it felt more like Fairbanks, Alaska with double digit highs and lows below zero! It was fun getting to see friends again. I can't tell you how many people came up to me at races or even in the middle of the forest to ask if I was ok, what happened, if I had been ill or injured because I suddenly quit racing in Moscow :-( The truth is, I got offered the job in June and had about 3 weeks to get my shit in order because I had to get to Alaska to set up house and be ready for school. So, I never really got to say goodbye to much of anyone, but those who knew , knew I wasn't going away forever, just seasonally like I did when I taught in Fairbanks and in Wasilla years earlier. I have been living in Russia off and on for nearly 26 years.  For better or for worse it's always going to be a part of who I am and my world view of things.
The first race I did was on the 26th of December- just an indoor mile on the indoor track where I have trained since 2002. I ended up 4th overall (and oh dear was the oldest ladyout there). There were no runners over 30 much less 40! Ah well, I did this as a tune up for the race the next day in Orekhovo Zuevo.

This was fun and getting my legs moving again on the flat. There is definitely a transition after months of mountain running. Strength is there speed is also back but takes a little time. I now understand why people wait a week or 2 to race a flat after coming down from the mountains. I even notice this at times when I go down to sea level for flat intervals. Legs are strong but need to transition to being on flats.
Sooo, the next day, I went out to Orekhovo-Zuevo for the 3rd year in a row. It was chilly but not the -15 or so C we had last year. When I arrived it was not snowing (yet) and the ground was clean. On the train out however, it was snowing sideways and hard with zero visibility!

This race has always been well organized. Word gets out! There was a very deep field this year and a record number of runners. My age group- the 30-45group had the deepest field- go figure!
 The snow arrived just in time for the start! I warmed up in my Hoka Cliftons as the pavement was still clear but by 2km into the 4 km race, I was ready to reach for the icebugs it was coming down that hard! I really had to watch the turns. Last year there was slush in spots but I still had traction. This year, it was bust your ass on the turns if you were not careful! I ended up 3rd overall which was not bad considering the depth of the field. I actually sat back in 7th overall until the final incline in the last 500 or so. Some people call it a "hill". Funny thing is I used to notice this incline but after all my hellaciously hilly training in Alaska it didn't really get my attention. Father Frost and Snegurochka were at the awards :)
That sideways snow followed me out on the train!

pit stop for lunch before heading home!
It turned out to be a good double. My legs felt good to my surprise despite this being a day 2 race. 

The next adventure was on Jan 3- the Snowflake Half in Mitino on the far northwest end just outside Moscow. I had really hoped to do the Aktivizm New year Run again this year on Jan 1, but it had fallen victim to the economic downturn and was cancelled. The awesome trail races organized by River Trail Running Club have also been cancelled this year as well (Pioneer Camp, Sand dune races(where the spring marathon was) the mud run....the races on  kickass trails outside Moscow). This is  huge loss as these races were so fun and well organized. So I decided to head to Mitino to the park where I ran the 2.5k on Victory Day back in May. This time though the course was all on the brick road- no trails/dirt like in the spring. I needed a good tempo run to get my butt in shape for the Little SU 50k on Feb 13. I have not done this race since my last year in Alaska in 2005! 

After the New Year, the temps bottomed out and winter finally arrived. -20s C was the norm. it hadn't been this cold for quite a while and the last 3 winters were pretty wimpy. There was actually ice fog the morning of this run! This was a fun well organized half (and 10 and 5k). Coach was there keeping vitargo bottles from freezing. This turned out to be a nice workout and win too.

Soooo a couple days after this half there was a 3k in Kuzminki. Hmmm ok I'm going to be running these trails anyways at 11am....why not just do this for fun? Kuzminki is the park where I have trained since 2002. The trails are 600m from my doorstep. This was a Father Frost fun run on a very familiar loop around the ponds and base of the sled hill. So on the morning of the run it was a whopping -25C! This was making me feel more like running in Fairbanks, Alaska! BRRR!

So out the door I went and ran to the start. I ended up finishing 2nd behind Olga Tarantinova who is an elite mid D runner. This was fun and my legs weren't that bad off despite the half 2 days before. These pics with my frosty face definitely remind me of my Fairbanks days! This was the first time I have raced in my Apocalypse double layer fleece mitts (yup made in Fairbanks) since I can't remember. It's also the first time I have raced with bottom layer tights to my knees under my subzero ones in several years-yeh  brr. The course was actually 2 miles (ah well) anddespite being all layered up and wintery,I just missed cracking 13 which was actually better than some of my top winter  2 mile xc times at the easier Srichinmoy course I've been doing since they started in 2011. 

Yes, this race was also sponsored partly by the dog mushers in the park :) Their sign reads "From Kuzminki to Alaska" which I can quite relate to. I actually posted it as my banner on Facebook when I went back to Alaska in July. 

So what's on tap in 2016? I will head back to Moscow in the summer for some racing in Russia and hopefully Latvia. I am really disappointed that our 50k NCs and World Cup race in Daugavpils got moved to May 28th. I was going to make that one of my A races this year and it looks like I will miss it by literally a couple days since school is out the day before! This has always been a summer race. There has been no announcement about WC or EC 100k yet. That I would like to not miss next time around if I can get  to the venue. I am once again faced with many of the issues I had to deal with when I lived in Alaska years ago in that there are many races I'd like to do, and I do have limited personal leave I could use to get out, but the COST of getting out is what does me in. Now that I'm in the US, I could go out to Mad City 100k for Nationals or 50k NCs in NY, but a weekend trip to either would cost nearly what it does to go to Europe! This is why I had to pull out of 100k WC/EC in 2015- the airfare from Anchorage was 2500$! When I was living in Russia full time, getting to a race venue in Europe was easy peasy and could be done on the cheap over a weekend, now that's only possible if I happen to be in Russia over my summer and winter breaks from school and can just pop on out to a race. So, I will train and race in Alaska and get out primarily over summer break to Europe/Russia ,etc for the bulk of my racing season. It doesn't cost me an arm, leg , and kidney to stay in Russia since I am still mainatining my flat there. This is pretty much what I did prior to 2005 in that my meat and potatoes racing season was over the summer when I  was able to get out. I'm hoping that training on some challenging mountiain terrain during the school year will translate to good strength and speed during the racing season.